Most University of Louisiana System universities saw tuition revenue fall in 2022

William Taylor Potter
Lafayette Daily Advertiser

As the state’s largest higher education system has faced falling enrollment, the majority of the University of Louisiana System’s universities have seen tuition revenue fall over the last two years, audits show.

The system reported that its total revenue fell by $134 million from the 2021 fiscal year to the 2022 fiscal year. Around $34 million of the decline was from tuition and fee revenue, which the audit said was the result of falling enrollment.

More information on the individual universities' financial situations may come when the Louisiana Legislative Auditor releases its audit. The audit for the full system was released in December.

The audit said the decline in tuition and fee revenue for the system was “caused by lower student enrollment.” Since 2020, tuition revenue has fallen $42 million (7.5%) for the system and by $44 million (7.8%) since 2018 across the system.

Jim Henderson, the president of the UL System, said that regional universities have been facing enrollment declines across the country, and Louisiana is beginning to see the effects of that trend. He said the goal now is to determine the best way to market the nine universities in the UL System to potential students.

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Of the nine universities in the system, six saw their tuition and fee revenues fall in the last two years. Only Northwestern State University, McNeese State University and Southeastern Louisiana University saw tuition revenue increase.

"Of all the things that we do systemically, enrollment is the most institution specific," Henderson said. "When you look at enrollment decline's an aggregation of nine different universities, and each one of those universities faces a different challenge."

McNeese, for example, saw enrollment drop after Hurricanes Laura and Delta. Being a regional school, its student population was heavily impacted by the storms. But in the years since, its enrollment has bounced back.

Nicholls State University had the largest drop in tuition revenue, both by percentage and overall total. The university lost around $24.9 million in tuition revenue, a decrease of about 41.2% between the 2021 and 2022 fiscal years. The University of New Orleans had the second-largest decrease with $10.6 million or 18.9%.

Grambling State University had the third-largest loss by percentage, while the system’s largest university, the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, had the third-largest total decrease. Grambling’s tuition revenue fell by 11.2% or $3.1 million, with UL’s revenue dropping by $7.7 million or 5.6%.

The University of Louisiana at Monroe had a decline of 5.1% or $2.8 million, while the Louisiana Tech University’s tuition and fee revenue fell by 0.5% or around $367,000.

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Northwestern had the largest increase with 32.5% or $12.3 million, followed by McNeese with 4.5% or $1.7 million. Southeastern’s tuition revenue rose by $1.3 million or 1.9%.

Henderson said another reason for some schools being affected more than others is the variety within the system. Universities like UL Lafayette, UNO and Louisiana Tech are research-intensive schools, which is a draw for some students, particularly for graduate studies. The regional universities that serve specific geographic areas are going to be impacted by events in the region, such as natural disasters or economic pressures.

Then there's the system's Historically Black College or University, Grambling State, which has a nationally-recognized brand.

"So each one is a little bit different, and we try to maximize that with some systemic intervention," Henderson said.

But over the same two year period, many of the universities were able to increase their overall operating revenue with other funding sources. Only three universities – Grambling, UNO and Nicholls – saw operating revenue fall between 2021 and 2022.

Four universities – McNeese, UL Lafayette, Grambling and Nicholls – saw their overall revenue, including non-operating revenues, decline.

Most of the UL System’s universities saw tuition revenue fall after the COVID-19 pandemic. Between the 2018 fiscal year, the last full year before the pandemic began, and the 2021 fiscal year, five schools saw tuition revenue drop. The universities were Louisiana Tech, ULM, UL Lafayette, Southeastern and McNeese.

Louisiana Tech increased its total operating revenue over that period, while UNO saw its operating revenue decline despite a small increase in tuition revenue.

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As of the 2022 fiscal year, only two of the UL System’s universities have seen tuition and fee revenue match pre-COVID levels: Northwestern State and Grambling. Northwestern State’s tuition revenue is up 36.5% or $13.4 million from the pre-COVID mark, while Grambling is around 3.1% or $721,000 above its mark.

Henderson said one of the keys to boosting enrollment is to bring in non-traditional students. He said relying on students coming out of high school alone is no longer sufficient, which is one of the reasons the system is promoting Compete LA, a program to help Louisianans who started college but did not finish earn a degree.

"We've got to work with the generations of Louisianans who are underskilled and unprepared for a workforce dominated by technology, artificial intelligence, automation, and those types of working adults require a different level of service from an institution," Henderson said.

Note: William Taylor Potter works as an adjunct instructor for Northwestern State University.